In the 1960s, Black activists started a natural hair movement that Marcus Garvey summed up in one statement “Don’t remove the kinks from your hair—remove them from your brain.” Black hair has gone through many regulations, phases, and trends throughout North American history. Among the many hardships the Black community has faced, the suppression of their natural features has been a persistent social hurdle that they have worked to overcome.
From rules to shave or cover their heads, to gently enforced options of relaxed and straightened hair that adhered to antiquated western beauty standards, black women have had a tough time being comfortable with their natural hair. While hair is a part of our identity and how we appear to others, it is also tied to how we view and feel about ourselves. It may seem like a superficial part of our lives, but it is a part of our self-care that can be healing; when we’ve had a long day, when we need to feel good about ourselves.
As of late, we are finally seeing noticeable progress towards embracing natural hair. The recent Oscar-winning animated short, Hair Love, has brought attention to the struggles of learning and taking care of black hair. It also shows how rewarding it can be when a community is present, with a shared knowledge to help and support anyone who wants to figure it out.
The idea of using products that emphasize natural hair, rather than suppressing it, has turned into a diverse and inclusive community of people sharing step-by-step YouTube tutorial guides about hair care. The curly hair routine is a phenomenon that reaches around the world, telling men and women to embrace their natural curly hair instead of altering it to meet one standard of beauty that has permeatedwestern media. It takes the routine of hair care to another level of self-love.
After learning about this Curly Girl community, I was very excited to visit Urban Curls Boutique, located above Dolce Gelato on Danforth Avenue. It was the first salon I had ever encountered that catered specifically to curly hair. The inside of the shop is bright and spacious, with beautiful spotlights and lamps throughout the room. Clients are seated in comfortable black couch chairs, and the white counters and sinks are neat and gleaming with the hairdressers’ tools at the ready. The salon usually has every chair occupied, a symphony of chatter filling the room. This is a hair salon that embraces conversation—everyone is included and everyone loves being heard.
As I sat down with the owner, Keina, she explained that she had temporarily pulled all the products for sale from the shelves. They had been using products from US suppliers, but their salon has now decided to support local Canadian companies to create a stronger network within Canada’s natural hair community. The demand for curly hair treatments and hair cuts in Canada is growing very slowly, but it is definitely on the rise. Keina says that clients come from all over Toronto for the boutique’s specialized services. Keina’s list of services include cuts and trims, as well as scalp and hair treatments; these treatments strip the hair of product buildup, then revitalize the hair to maintain health and volume. She reiterates that the boutique does not offer perms, just natural hair care that brings out each individuals’ potential for curly hair, whether it is wavy hair or tight coils. The hairdressers make sure they educate each client on using natural products, finding the right routine for their hair care, and which product ingredients could work the best for them.
I left this boutique feeling like I had just received a live tutorial from all the online hair gurus that only seemed to exist in the US. Successfully achieving self care starts with accessibility to these services, which cater to individual identities. An online community is a start, but having physical spaces in our community where we can see representation thriving is invaluable to our diverse community.